Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 28


The theme of this chapter is returning to our natural state. Tao is the undifferentiated source of the manifested universe. Tao manifests in the universe as Te. Remember that Te is loosely translated as virtue but does not mean virtue in the sense of morality, but rather in the sense of an inner harmony or integrity. Te is not separate from Tao, but rather is the natural expression or revelation of Tao in the world. Te ultimately returns to its source in Tao.

When our own lives manifest the integrity of Te, we return to our natural state of harmony with Tao. One aspect of the integrity of Te is the reconciliation of duality. The chapter gives us three examples.

Reconciling male and female
Become the watercourse for the world
Te will remain
Returning to infancy

An infant represents the primal unity of male and female, a pure channel through which Te flows uninterrupted. Jesus spoke of the innocence of children and their close link to the divine.

Reconciling black and white
Become the model for the world
Te will not fail
Returning to limitlessness

The characters for limitlessness are 无极 , pronounced wuji. If you practice taiji or other martial arts, you are probably familiar with wuji stance, which is basically a relaxed standing posture. The limitlessness of wuji is described as emptiness and is represented by this symbol.


This wuji symbol represents the vast emptiness and limitless potential of Tao. When Tao manifests into form it becomes a duality of black and white, or light and dark, or yin and yang, represented by the taiji symbol.


So within these two symbols we can see the limitless source of Tao manifesting into the perfect harmony of Te. When the two aspects of Te swirl together, they return to the undifferentiated source of Tao.

And finally...

Reconciling honor and disgrace 
Become the valley of the world
Te is then complete
Returning to an uncarved block

The image of the valley is used several times in the Tao Te Ching. A valley is low, fertile, open. It lies humbly beneath the rolling hills or majestic mountains that surround it. Yet it is the source of all nourishment that sustains life. It is a place of refuge and home to the water that seeks the low path.

The image of an uncut block of wood is also used several times in the Tao Te Ching, conveying a sense not only of simplicity but also of unlimited potential. The uncut block of wood can become many things. In the process of carving, however, the emerging form begins to eliminate possibilities. As the completed shape becomes defined, it takes on an identity, separate from all other things it might have been. The uncut block of wood represents the beginner’s mind of zen. And here, it represents the unlimited potential of Tao, the source from which the universe manifests and to which it returns.

The images and poetry of this chapter are so beautiful. If we can take these images as our guides, they will reveal to us the rhythm of the universe, the rhythm of manifesting and returning. Within that rhythm, we can find the balance of duality, the still point around which duality circles in its endless dance.

Is there an image here that especially resonates for you?

May I walk in the path of the low valley. ~2 Nephi 4:32

12 comments:

  1. "The theme of this chapter is returning to our natural state. Tao is the undifferentiated source of the manifested universe. Tao manifests in the universe as Te."


    I was having a hard time with the beginning of this chapter until I remembered, "In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God."

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    1. Exactly, CW. So interesting that Jesus is equated with the "Word." In Genesis, God "spoke" the universe into existence. "Let there be...." Speaking/words manifest creation. The manifestation of Tao as Te and the return to Tao is so beautifully represented by that verse about the Word.

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  2. Galen, I particularly loved your description and juxtaposition of the valley to the hills/mountains surrounding and rising up from it. When we take our bi-annual trips to the Nantahala Mountains in North Carolina, we pass through Happy Valley, as we've come to call it. Replete with streams and rich farmlands, with the mountains framing it all around, it has become for us a symbol of all that is right with the world. The lowlands and the highlands are one, different yet united. Complimenting and fulfilling each other in an endless embrace.
    Thank you for this reflection, my friend! Bless you!

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    1. That valley image is one of my favorites, too, Martha. I love your description of your Happy Valley. All that is right with the world indeed. Endless embrace--lovely. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. I was just reading Advaita Vedanta, and I'm always looking for parallels. It says Brahman, in the manifestation of Isvara or the creating Lord, acts in "lila" translated as play or sport. So there is no good, bad, or why to creation, it's just the universe at play. Certainly colorful!

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    1. I like to find parallels too, Jessica. Thanks for sharing this one. You mentioned in your email a book club of some sort to study the Tao Te Ching, yes? This blog series is not quite that, but if readers have their own copy, or look up the chapters online, then we can discuss different reflections in the comments. I usually don't translate the entire chapter in a post because there are so many translations out there. But I do try to offer a little something extra by looking more deeply at certain passages or Chinese characters. Or finding parallels, as you did so nicely!

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  4. I was wondering about the I Ching too!

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    1. Yes, an ancient text, as you noted in your email. I would like to know more about it, too. I do not have the same level of experience and history with the I Ching as I do with the Tao Te Ching.

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  5. Of course, I loved the scripture!
    As I read this I started to think about how most all the religions and philosophies of the world have truth. Therefore, It makes sense to me that intermingled in those truths you can see parts of the pure doctrines of the universe. I see in Tao and Te; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and how they interrelate to one another and are unified in all things. They each have a role but are one in purpose. Our ultimate goal is to return again to our Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ.
    To me the image of the uncut block of wood represents us. We are that uncut block of wood with great potential. Just as the block of wood is carved; we through our own life experiences and choices are being molded into our hopeful potential.
    Another awesome post to cause many thoughts to go through my already cluttered brain.
    Sending blessings and hugs your way!

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    1. That's beautiful, LeAnn. Thank you for sharing your insights. I agree that when we look beneath the surface concepts and vocabulary, most wisdom/faith traditions reveal Truth. (I loved that verse, too.)

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  6. I love this post, Galen . There is so much there .

    "So within these two symbols we can see the limitless source of Tao manifesting into the perfect harmony of Te. When the two aspects of Te swirl together, they return to the undifferentiated source of Tao."

    Your statement here about Te returning to the undifferentiated source of Tao reminds me of the following verse:

    Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain -Isaiah 40:4

    That is Te and Tao and I remember years ago that verse really spoke to me. Tao living makes the valleys and the hills of life become a straight path, with less stumbling in the rough places.

    "The uncut block of wood represents the beginner’s mind of zen"

    I love that . If we could stop labeling, conceptualizing everything we encounter , then the unlimited potential of Tao remains. Jesus's teaching on "being as a child" with that beginners mind rings true here. If we could just observe with less mind and thought involved , we would have a greater sense of awe over what the mind would call ordinary.

    "Within that rhythm, we can find the balance of duality, the still point around which duality circles in its endless dance."

    I love this statement. There is a great truth in it . The still point for me is the "presence" of being from which we can observe the duality we experience in this material world. The endless dance of yin and yang can be observed from this still point.

    Great post, Galen


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    1. Thank you, Brian, for your thoughtful comment, which adds so much to the post. I appreciate the way you took several parts and added your own reflections. Love that verse from Isaiah--that is perfect.

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